Thursday, January 10, 2013
The Preacher’s Corner
“What’s wrong with this picture?”
A loyal reader of this column, who is also a local businessman, asked if I would write a column “about all those guns.” We are in a fix, and though I’ve not seen the proofs of this week’s The South Reporter, I’ll bet somewhere in these pages is an item illustrating the misuse of guns. If not, turn on the TV news. It will be the first story. As they say in TV news, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
There is no doubt that we Americans are a violent people. Compare our statistics to all the other industrialized nations and you see how violent we are. We rob, stab, kill and maim one another at astounding rates. When you compare this with the fact that we are the most religious nation in the world—by membership and attendance rates—you have to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
When I was a teenager and accompanied my home church’s mission team to Parchman for their Sunday afternoon service, I remember being struck by the fact that all the prisoners knew the hymns by heart and sang lustily. If they knew all those songs, I wondered, how did they get there? What is it about Americans—Southerners—and Mississippians—that we pay such honor to God and yet do not honor God’s teachings? Jesus asked, “Why call ye me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
It is beyond my competence to say exactly how or by what means gun ownership should be regulated. There are people out there — sheriffs, police chiefs — who put their lives on the line for us every day. We should listen carefully to what they say. I will say only that things like “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” leaves me hollow. If that’s all we are, we are in a sad state indeed.
Jesus said, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). There is a “peace” that this world gives, but Jesus says, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
The peace that is described in the Bible is not practiced very much in our present day. It is the “Come, let us reason together” of Isaiah. It is the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” of Jesus. It is the willingness to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies, to pray for those who despitefully use you. It is the willingness to lay down your life on behalf of your friends. People will say, and rightly so, that this is a religious answer to a practical problem. But Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Ephesians that Christ had broken down the wall of division between Jews and Greeks, “thus making peace.” You saw it lived out daily in the life of those early Christians. Religion can make a difference in practical affairs. It is sad that religion is so often misused, even in America, to foment strife.
But the question that concerns me now is whether those of us who claim the religion of Jesus are going to really live by it or just go on paying lip service to it. People have largely abandoned the churches because they sense the half-hearted commitment there. The outside world senses that many, if not most, Christians have absolutely no intention of doing what the Bible really says. We honor God when it suits us.
The closest Jesus comes to giving a specific answer to the problem of weaponry is in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was arrested. Peter has a sword and uses it to cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. But Jesus says, “No more of this!” and heals the wounded man’s ear (Luke 22:50, 51).
Gandhi and Dr. King both embraced the non-violent teachings of Jesus. Gandhi freed India from its British conquerors, and Dr. King freed black people all across this land. So did Archbishop Tutu in South Africa. It does not matter that in all three cases church people were among the last to acknowledge what they were doing. It is also true that Gandhi and King were assassinated.
The peace Jesus speaks about is not a guarantee of personal safety. It is about us living our lives so that other, violent people are moved to cease their mischief. Remember how Saul of Tarsus, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) was stopped in his tracks on the Damascus Road by the call of the non-violent Jesus?
People of good will are going to disagree about how to alter our current situation. We did not get in this mess overnight, and will not emerge from it overnight. But if our faith does not shape the way we respond to this, would there ever really be any human situation where our faith would make a difference?
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